An interview with… Esport Commentator James O’LearyBy Sj.Cliff
The world of professional video-game playing (Esports) is growing rapidly. Whether it’s individual or a team playing, the chance to make a living playing games is becoming a reality.
League of Legends is played in over 145 countries with 32 million monthly players – nearly as many people who have Xbox Live. With the prize money for this year’s World Championship reaching $1 million dollars, it’s no wonder people want to get there!
We spoke to James O'Leary (Gamertag: Stress), a commentator for two years, to tell us a little about the game and his part in it.
For those who don’t know, can you explain what Esports are?
Esports is the competitive, professional side of Video Games. Whether it's a team game that tests your ability to work together with your team mates, or a single player game where high skill moves and high concentration can decide the victor in seconds, one thing is for certain; being successful in Esports requires a lot of hard work. Esports has grown to the point where productions are rivalling traditional sporting events, with professional hosts and commentators, (in esports known as "Casters") to guide the audience through the game.
You play League of Legends – a rapidly growing online game, how did you find it?
I found League of Legends because a few friends introduced me the game shortly after it was released. The game has grown a huge amount since then to become the most played online game in the world.
You all play different positions (ADC, Jungle ect.) How does that combination affect your gameplay?
Being able to play multiple positions is key to playing online, but not necessarily for playing in a competitive team. Each role has a completely different playstyle, some champions will do lots of damage but die very easily and vice versa, so it's all about knowing how to play each of the 121 current champions. When playing in tournaments, typically each of the five roles will have between five and ten "viable" champions to play, all of which have been practiced extensively.
How did you start playing games professionally?
I got involved in esports in a slightly different way to most players since I'm a commentator rather than a player. I was at an event in the UK 2 years ago and their League of Legends tournament finals needed a commentator. I've had experience working with Team Dignitas, one of the largest Esports teams in the world, as an interviewer which gave me the confidence to do on camera work, so I volunteered since I knew the game. Players on the other hand typically will meet other Pro players online playing on the Solo-Queue ladder, and after gaining a good reputation will get approached by teams needed a new player.
Have you noticed an increase in people watching gaming streams?
The number of people watching gaming streams has grown exponentially in the last few years. The League of Legends World Championships viewing figures are a great indicator in this. The 2011 season finals was watched by 1.6 million people over the duration of the event, compared to the 2013 finals which 32 million people tuned in to last year.
Why do you think that is?
The accessibility of streaming is far easier now thanks to Twitch.TV. Every smart phone, console or PC sold now has the instant ability to get online and watch content on Twitch at the touch of a button. The quality of content has also increased in recent years, with gaming shows filling a niche market that traditional media is ignoring. The way young people consume media has changed, with the advent of Netflix, Spotify and Twitch, most gamers won't even need to consider switching on the TV since it's all available online now.
Is the pressure to remain the best increasing as the prize money for these tournaments creeps up?
The pressure to compete is always increasing. Just like in sports, there are a million other players fighting for that opportunity, and if you let up for even a short amount of time, people will overtake you in a heartbeat. The prize money, while a large part of Esports money, has steadily increased, it's advertising revenue from streaming that is where some of the biggest gamers now make their money because the only thing it depends on is the consistency of streaming to your already dedicated audience.
America has started issuing athlete visas for League players – what do you think that means for the world of Esports?
Pro gamers being issued athletes visas is a step forward for the perceived legitimacy of esports in the media and public eye. Trying to show people that there are gamers out there who are highly skilled, on a world class level, is very difficult, so to have an official document stating just that can really be an eye opener.
Have/are you guys studying alongside your gaming?
During the start of my career in Esports, I was in the final year of studying for my degree. Most pro players do not study while playing at the top level, as practice schedules can vary between eight and twelve hours a day at a minimum, 6 days a week. There isn't a lot of time for study.
How do you balance your working life and your social life?
I'm very lucky that I've met a lot of good friends through my work, both colleagues of mine and people met in game. It blurs the lines between work and social life sometimes and makes it very easy to love the work I'm doing.
If gaming is your job, how do you unwind?
Surprisingly, gaming is one of the biggest ways of unwinding still. Playing different games, or with groups of friends doesn't feel like work at all. It's always good to take some time away from the computer though, so most people in Esports and Pro players will do some kind of sport during their downtime. Even though the stereotypical image painted about gamers is far from athletic, to compete with the best in the world you have to have a healthy body and mind since it's a very high pressure career.
What advice do you have for someone who’d like to game competitively?
The first piece of advice is to finish your current level of education; whether that's GCSE's, A-Levels or a particular year of University, get that sorted first as qualifications are an important part of the rest of your life. The next part is to be realistic about your skill. Only the top 1% of all players even has the potential of playing competitively and from that, a tiny number will make enough money to live on as a career path. If you fit those criteria of being one of the top players, prove it to the professionals online. Use the Ranked Ladder in League of Legends to play against the top gamers in the world and earn their respect, it's the absolute best way to get started with playing for a team. The last part is to take it seriously; set out practice schedules and schedule sessions for improvement with team mates, looking at areas to improve. The top players analyze their games daily, if you want to be one, so should you.